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Full text of "John Fries Blair"

THE LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF 

NORTH CAROLINA 

AT CHAPEL HILL 




THE COLLECTION OF 
NORTH CAROLINIANA 

PRESENTED BY 

North Caroliniana Soc 



C9C6 
NB7s 

no • o 



FOR USE ONLY IN 
NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTIC 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 



http://archive.org/details/johnfriesblair08mccu 



John 

Fries 

Blair 




by Margaret Blair McCuiston 



NORTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY IMPRINTS 
NUMBER 8 



This edition is limited to 

five hundred copies 
of which this is number 

439 



NORTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY IMPRINTS 
H. G.Jones, Editor 



No. 1. An Evening at Monticello: An Essay in Reflection (1978) 
by Edwin M. Gill 

No. 2. The Paul Green I Know (1978) 
by Elizabeth Lay Green 

No. 3. The Albert Coates I Know (1979) 
by Gladys Hall Coates 

No. 4. The Sam Ervin I Know (1980) 
by Jean Conyers Ervin 

No. 5. Sam Ragan (1981) 
by Neil Morgan 

No. 6. Thomas Wolfe of North Carolina (1982) 
edited by H. G. Jones 

No. 7. Gertrude Sprague Carraway (1982) 
by Sam Ragan 

No. 8. John Fries Blair (1983) 
by Margaret Blair McCuiston 



John 



Fries 

Blair 





by Margaret Blair McCuiston 



Together with Proceedings of a Banquet on the Occasion of the Presentation 
of the North Caroliniana Society Award for 1983 



Chapel Hill 

NORTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY, INC. 

1983 



Copyright © 1983 by 

North Caroliniana Society, Inc. 

P.O. Box 127 

Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514-0127 

All rights reserved 

Manufactured in the United States of America 



(&^D 



AN EVENING WITH JOHN FRIES BLAIR 



On the evening of May 20, 1983, friends and relatives attended a reception 
and banquet in the Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill, honoring fohn Fries Blair on the oc- 
casion of his acceptance of the North Caroliniana Society Award for 1983. The 
master of ceremonies was Dr. H. G.Jones, curator of the North Carolina Collec- 
tion and secretary-treasurer of the North Caroliniana Society; and the award was 
presented by Archie K. Davis, president of the Society. Brief tributes were given by 
Sam Ragan and Albert Coates, followed by the secret main speaker, Margaret 
Blair McCuis ton, sister of the honoree. Their remarks, along with the recipient's re- 
sponse, are published in this the eighth number in the North Caroliniana Society 
Imprints series. Included also, with special permission, is Roy Thompson's story on 
Blair that appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal of May 22, 1983. 



C^^D 



to 








tie f*'" 




JN RECOGNITION OF SERVICE: John Fries Blair at top holds the 
North Caroliniana Society Award for 1983, and at bottom he is shown with his 
sister, Margaret Blair McCuiston, the surprise speaker, and Archie K. Davis, 
president of the North Caroliniana Society. (Top photo by Mae Woods Bell; 
others unless noted by Jerry W. Cotten.) 





Four oj the speakers who honored John Fries Blair, jrom left to right, top to bot- 
tom: Dr. H.G. Jones, secretary of the Society and master of ceremonies; Sam 
Ragan, who spoke of Blair's contributions to literature; Albert Coates, who de- 
scribed his public service; and Margaret Blair McCuiston, who traced her brother's 
career. 




The banquet gave Blair an opportunity to renew old friendships. At top, he chats 
with George H. Esser, former colleague at the Institute of Government; and at 
bottom he shares a hearty laugh with John W. Harden, author, businessman, and 
longtime friend. 




At top Albert Coates (left), founder of the Institute of Government, talks with 
the Reverend William W. Finlater, civil libertarian; and at bottom two editors — 
Sam Ragan of the Pilot (Southern Pines) and Roy Parker, jr., of the Fayette- 
ville Times — carry on an intense discussion. 




In top photograph, former Governor and Mrs. Dan K. Moore converse with 
Archie K. Davis, president of the North Caroliniana Society; and at bottom 
H.B. (Mack) Webb (center) shares a drink with Frances Wellman and her hus- 
band, Manly Wade Wellman, the state's most prolific book writer. 



(SSJ^D 



DR. H. G. JONES, Master of Ceremonies: 

Nearly forty years ago, he stole much of the applause on the stage of 
the Carolina Playmakers as Conover in State of the Union, Canon Matt La- 
velle in The White Steed, and Don Carawan in Calliope. (Don Carawan — 
drop the "Cara" and we get Don Juan!) He cut a lithe figure on the 
dance floor and was the most sought-after partner on the Chapel Hill 
Country Club's bachelor list. 

Like Thomas Wolfe, he learned that his forte was not playwriting 
after the Playmakers performed his Comhread — a Domestic Farce, featuring 
such characters as Mullican, Maloney, Farmer Brown, and Lem. His act- 
ing, however, continued a favorite pastime until 1961 when he was poi- 
soned in Arsenic and Old Lace. 

His integrity was above reproach — so solid, in fact, that his buddy 
Andy Griffith entrusted his girl friends to our honoree, who, it is alleged, 
never violated the trust. If so, none of the young women complained. 

Since entering the publishing business in 1954, he has produced more 
than 120 books, nearly a hundred of them still in print. His books have in- 
cluded major contributions to our state and region, and several of them 
have won literary awards. If we take a bit of liberty with a few of the 
titles, we find a remarkable range of subjects: whispering pines and carni- 
vorous plants; sand roots and nematodes; winter birds and spotted hawks; 
white stallions and remembered mules; historic restaurants and company 
shops; tapestry makers and casketmakers; weekly affairs, innocent bigamy, 
and spiritual divorces; pirates, Tar Heel writers, and gloomy deans; inky 
pusses, wild queens, swamp girls, painted ladies, and haloless papas; lord 
hams, po' folks, hungry guts, and wet butts. 

Tonight we shall hear about more sides of John Fries Blair than some 
of you thought he had. Don't be surprised if that Moravian star associated 
with him occasionally twinkles or even blinks as some of his hidden char- 
acteristics are exposed. 

But first we must expose those sitting at the head table. When you 
look at this group, you may think that we should have done everything 
possible to elevate them. But out of respect for the egalitarian spirit of 



1 



John Fries Blair, we have placed everybody on the same level. As I recog- 
nize each person, would you rise and remain standing and would the audi- 
ence withhold applause until all have been recognized. 
From my far left: 

1 . Mr. North Carolina History and the vice-president (former presi- 
dent) of the North Caroliniana Society, William S. Powell; 

2. The associate editor of The Pilot, of Southern Pines, Marjorie Ra- 
gan; 

3. The recipient of the second North Caroliniana Society Award, 
Albert Coates; 

4. A gracious lady known to all of Winston-Salem and much of 
North Carolina, Mary Louise Davis. 

From my far right: 

5. The recipient of the fourth North Caroliniana Society Award, 
Sam Ragan; 

6. The bylineless coauthor of a lot of Bill Powell's works, Virginia 
Powell; 

7. The president of the North Caroliniana Society who accepted the 
position only on condition that he never be subjected to the indignity of 
receiving a North Caroliniana Society Award, Archie K. Davis; 

8. The cofounder of the Institute of Government and the only re- 
straint ever recognized by Albert, Gladys Coates; 

9. And now will you join me in welcoming our guest of honor, 
John Fries Blair. 

Let us also welcome members of John's immediate family (please 
withhold your applause until all are standing): His sister, Margaret Blair 
McCuiston; his nephew, Robert A. McCuiston, Jr., and niece, Erdmuth 
Venable and her husband Scott; and his grandnieces and grandnephews, 
Patricia McCuiston, Robert A. McCuiston III and wife Ellen, Dorothea 
Venable, William Blair Venable, Margaret Couch, and Paul Couch. 

A little later we will let you take a look at the people who work every 
day with John, but first, visit with your neighbors and enjoy your dinner. 

[Dinner followed.] 



<^££) 



When we wrote John asking permission to treat him as we have 
Paul Green, Albert Coates, Sam Ervin, Sam Ragan, and Gertrude Carra- 
way (the previous recipients of the North Caroliniana Society awards), 
there was silence. More than a month passed. We mailed him a copy of 
the original letter and observed that we needed to fix a date convenient for 
him, us, and the Inn. 

This time he responded promptly, explaining that though he always 
sorted his mail into two piles, one marked "urgent" and the other "not 
so urgent," he never got around to opening the "not so urgent" mate- 
rials and that, unfortunately, it had been several weeks since he looked at 
the "urgent" pile, in which our original letter had apparently rested un- 
opened. 

He did, however, know the perfect date for the presentation ban- 
quet. Only there was a problem. April Fools' Day fell on Good Friday this 
year, and as a strict Moravian he was already committed in Salem on that 
date. 

You may blame us, therefore, for selecting May 20, the alleged anni- 
versary of North Carolina's most famous myth, for the Carolina Inn — 
built and given to the university by John Sprunt Hill for the benefit of the 
North Carolina Collection — was already booked for September 28, when 
John will reach the milestone of fourscore years. 

We had another scare last week. The North Caroliniana Society is 
noted for its stinginess, and it makes honorees pay their own way. Well, 
we had received no check from John Blair. Were we to have a celebration 
without the guest of honor? Archie told me not to worry — that John was 
practicing good Moravian economy by leaving his $12.50 in Wachovia's 
daily interest account until the last possible moment. Actually, that was 
not the problem. John called and said he'd like to come but had not re- 
ceived an invitation. Sure enough, we found an inexplicable "x" beside 
his name on the membership list. We still have not figured out why we 
failed to invite him to his own party. 

John Fries Blair is the first recipient of the North Caroliniana Society 
Award to have received all three of his academic degrees out of state. The 
difficulty of overcoming this dreadful handicap indicates the weight given 
by the Society to his public service once he returned to his roots. 

I have alluded, and others will allude, to John's career as a publisher 
who must read, or have others read, a mass of manuscripts in order to se- 
lect those few worthy of publication. Early in his career he told a reporter 
that he had a nightmare: he was walled in by a stream of unsolicited manu- 



scripts. "That has already happened," says a member of his staff, for he 
receives about 500 manuscripts each year. As visual evidence of his night- 
mare, his staff has furnished us with a large picture showing his desk inun- 
dated with stacks and stacks of typescripts. That picture, along with some 
other memorabilia and many of his books, is exhibited in the hall of Wil- 
son Library in a display mounted by Alice Cotten and Linda Lloyd. Un- 
fortunately it is too late tonight to see the exhibit, but it will be up for 
several weeks, and we invite you to come by to see it. 

At this time we should acknowledge John's loyal staff. Will the fol- 
lowing associates rise and remain standing so we can welcome you as a 
group: Ed Friedenberg and wife, Brenda Johnson and husband, Virginia 
Ingram, Marcia Harmon, Jean Pruett, and Margaret Couch. There are un- 
doubtedly other former members of his staff here, and of course each of 
you is his associate in some capacity. I will recognize but five more per- 
sons: directly in front of us here are Governor and Mrs. Dan K. Moore, 
and the Librarian of the University of North Carolina, Dr. James Govan 
and Mrs. Govan, and somewhere in the audience is Dr. Gertrude Carra- 
way, the recipient of our award in 1982. 

Many of your friends, John, sent their regrets for being unable to 
spend this evening with you. Senator Ervin, who said he reckoned he'd 
better show up at a dinner given in his honor tonight by the Morganton 
Shriners, sent a contribution in your honor. Former Governor Robert W 
Scott is giving the commencement address at Sandhills Community Col- 
lege, and Chancellor Christopher C. Fordham III has a conflicting engage- 
ment. Dorothy Owen, who is in England, wrote, "Mr. Blair is a great 
person . . . . " Jonathan Williams, who left today for England, wrote, "Mr. 
Blair has done a lot of valuable work in North Carolina over a number of 
years. I admire his quality and his persistence. May he thrive." And David 
Morgan, who leaves tomorrow for England, wrote, "Please tell him that 
I send congratulations and best wishes." 

More messages later. 



<S^D 



Sam Ragan is more than the poet laureate of North Carolina. For de- 
cades he has led a distinguished career as a newspaperman, author, televi- 
sion personality, and public servant. He and Walter Spearman have done 



more to stimulate and promote the production of literature in North 
Carolina than any two people alive. As a participant in and observer of the 
literary scene for half a century and as the nation's first head of a state cul- 
tural department, Sam can speak for the entire literary community. I am 
pleased to present the recipient of the fourth North Caroliniana Society 
Award, the Bard of Berea, Sam Ragan. 



(£^X) 



SAM RAGAN: 

I always enjoy these North Caroliniana Society dinners, and it's espe- 
cially enjoyable tonight as we honor an old friend, John Fries Blair. 

I have never seen John Blair on the stage, although he's a consum- 
mate actor and is dedicated to the theater. 

I have never been in his classroom, although a career as a teacher was 
one of many he has followed. 

I have never seen him in the courtroom, or watched him as a counse- 
lor to government — and yes, that's another facet of this remarkable man 
who has done so many things. 

But I do know him as John F. Blair, Publisher — and it is as a pub- 
lisher that he has had such a tremendous impact on North Carolina life 
and letters. 

He was the publisher of my first book of poetry. And having John 
Blair as your editor and publisher is truly an experience. When he ac- 
cepted my manuscript for publication he was as excited about it as I was. 
But he's a meticulous editor, as I soon discovered that he had read every 
poem and searched every comma and period. One poem he questioned — 
and I admit it was a bit esoteric — but my wife Marjorie, who sat in on our 
informal editorial conference, took up for it, and he graciously yielded. 

But there was another in which he questioned my reporting. I had 
written about a woods which had been swept by a fire storm, and I said 
the limbs of trees hung down like the broken wing of a bird. John said he 
thought a broken wing of a bird was hiked up, but I insisted it hung 
down, and he finally accepted my version. 



I never knew a publisher who was more kind, helpful, and reassur- 
ing; and I have steered many other writers in his direction. They have all 
received the same kind of treatment. 

The benign and smiling face of John Fries Blair has been a fixture at 
gatherings of the North Carolina Writers Conference for nearly 30 years. 

His publishing house has earned a splendid reputation for the quality 
of its books, and the gentle way of its publisher. 

I firmly believe that more and more books will be published in the 
future by regional publishing houses such as John F. Blair of Winston- 
Salem. In a way, he has been a pioneer in the field, and North Carolina lit- 
erature is greatly in his debt. 

Some years ago at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Writers 
Conference I was serving as chairman of the nominating committee for 
new officers. I approached John Blair and asked if he would serve as chair- 
man for the next year. 

He demurred and protested, "With all these writers here, I don't 
know. I'm just a publisher." 

"Being 'just a publisher' is pretty important," I said. "A lot of these 
writers wouldn't be here except for you." 

He yielded and was elected chairman by acclamation. 

I am honored to join in this salute to John F. Blair, Publisher. 



<^a^D 



DR. JONES: 

Someone has called Albert Coates a living myth. That's not right. 
He's a living reality. Few figures have cast such a long shadow on this uni- 
versity community since the arrival of a bright young man from Johnston 
County more than two-thirds of a century ago. His imprint will be visible 
on the campus and throughout the state for generations to come; the Insti- 
tute of Government stands as just one of his monuments. But Albert 
Coates is a legend in his own time, particularly on a platform. Over the 
years we have failed in every attempt to reign him in and to hold him to a 
time limit, but tonight we try a new invention. It is called a "Terraillon," 



a "Minuteur avec cordon pour porter autour du cou." It is a timer to be 
placed around the speaker's neck, and when his time is up, an alarm goes 
off, an electric shock knocks him breathless, and the device climbs up the 
ropes and strangles him. But we have never tested the "Albertan Terrail- 
lon," and because we have no insurance, we'll simply put it beside the po- 
dium. Next time, though, Albert, we're going to bell the cat! Ladies and 
gentleman, the legendary but very real Albert Coates. 



C^?£D 



ALBERT COATES: 

For thirty years the highest compliment I could pay to any man on 
earth was to invite him to join the staff of the Institute of Government. I 
paid that compliment to John Fries Blair in the early 1940s. 

When he came on the Institute staff, I started him on a job that was 
to absorb most of the three or four years he worked with the Institute of 
Government. Here is the background of that job: 

The coming of the automobile to North Carolina in the early 1900s 
brought the beginning of laws regulating traffic in particular trouble 
spots. With the rapidly increasing number of automobiles coming on the 
streets and highways during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, these laws ex- 
panded into a statewide traffic code regulating every step in the driving of 
an automobile on the public highways. Cities and towns followed the 
state pattern each with its own separate motor vehicle code. The court de- 
cisions construing this multiplicity of state laws and city ordinances were 
in a hundred volumes of supreme court reports. Looking for the separate 
laws bearing on the same situations was like looking for needles in hay- 
stacks. 

I started John Fries Blair to work in this thicket of laws scattered in 
different places to the point of practical inaccessibility. He tracked out the 
separate laws bearing on the same points and brought them together for 
the convenient use of lawyers at the bar, judges on the bench, legislators in 
the General Assembly. He wrote them into guidebooks for the convenient 
use of students and teachers in schools for law-enforcing officers all over 



North Carolina. His work was the foundation of Institute of Government 
training schools for State Highway Patrolmen for thirty years — from the 
middle 1940s to the middle 1970s. It has provided the model and the start- 
ing point for others who have followed in his footsteps. 

I found out later that this particular job was extremely unpleasant 
and distasteful to him — that his gorge would rise and flesh crawl off his 
bones at the thought of it — but I did not find it out from John Fries Blair. 
He went to work on the job without question and without protest. And 
that brings me to the one and only point I want to make on John Fries 
Blair tonight. It is rooted in a personal experience in my college days. 

At the beginning of the fall term of my junior year in the University 
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1916, Dr. A.H. Patterson called me 
into his ofrlce and told me I had flunked his course in physics. He said that 
he had been surprised that I would flunk a course, and had looked up my 
grades in other courses in the registrar's office. He had found that I had 
good grades in English, history, philosophy, and economics, a passing 
grade in French, and a failing grade in physics. In the light of my record in 
other courses, he wondered whether the fault in the physics failure lay 
with him or with me. 

I told him that the failure was my fault and not his; that I had put 
most of my time on courses which I thought would do me some good in 
the study of law and government; that I had allowed what I thought was 
enough time to pass the courses in physics and French, which I was taking 
for the sole purpose of a college degree; and that I had won the gamble in 
French and lost the gamble in physics. He told me I was wrong — that 
every student, every year, ought to take one distasteful course, or a course 
under one distasteful teacher, and do his level best to make his highest 
grade on that course — for the sake of the discipline involved. That was my 
first direct acquaintance with the word discipline. 

That word was what Edward Kidder Graham was talking about 
when he said in a chapel talk in my sophomore year: "No student is truly 
trained unless he has learned to do pleasantly, and promptly, and with 
clean-cut accuracy every task he has obligated himself to do. A man may 
decline to undertake a job, but to undertake it and shirk it is a crime in the 
world of efficiency. ' ' John Fries Blair did not commit that crime. He not 
only did the job assigned to him, he did it with a distinction which I re- 
member to this day — with gratitude and admiration. 

A paragraph from the Joseph Woods Krutch biography of Samuel 
Johnson years ago has this to say about him: "Here was a man who could 



be commissioned to do a job in the full confidence that, though he would 
approach the job as a job, he would also do a better job than anyone else 
working for love or fame at his chosen avocation would have done it." 
What Joseph Woods Krutch said about Samuel Johnson I am saying 
about John Fries Blair. I wanted so much to say it — out loud and in public 
— that I asked to be put on the program to say it here tonight in the pres- 
ence of his homefolks, friends, and admirers who have come to Chapel 
Hill to do him honor. I am saying it about a man who is as fine a combina- 
tion of the gentleman and the scholar as I have ever been privileged to 
know. I am saying it about a man who has the sort of mind that automati- 
cally throws out trash. I am saying it about a man whom I had rather have 
edit and publish a book of mine than any other man I know. I am saying it 
about a man whose good taste and good judgment and common decency 
and goodwill have made him a neighbor worth having and a colleague 
worth working with. In short, he is the man we know as John Fries Blair. 



(£=*££) 



DR. JONES: 

Before presenting our president who will introduce our secret speaker, 
I should say just a word about the North Caroliniana Society. You will 
observe that we are not a publicity-seeking organization. Our purpose is 
to encourage and promote knowledge and appreciation of the cultural her- 
itage of the state whose motto is to be rather than to seem. Members are 
elected not on the basis of what they can give in the future but rather 
what they have done in the past. We seek to recognize those who, like 
John Fries Blair, devote their careers to causes that exemplify the collective 
character of our state. John, you are the first, and may be the last, recipient 
of our award who earned all three of his degrees outside the state. Normally 
we are not so broadminded. Later this year we will publish the entire pro- 
ceedings of this evening, and a copy will be sent to each on tonight's ticket- 
list. At that time a suggestion will be made as to how we all may again 
show our appreciation for John's contributions to our state. 



As the secretary-treasurer, I have the pleasure of calling the attention 
of members to the fact that there are no "In memoriams" on our printed 
program, and I thank you all for your consideration in making it through 
the year. I urge you to remain in good health, for we don't want to lose 
anyone. Besides, it's a bit of a bother to have to print those little boxes. 



(S^G 



Archie Davis has been accumulating records ever since he entered the 
University of North Carolina. Upon his graduation in the depths of the 
depression, a job in a bank looked better than an advanced degree in his 
first interest, history. So he became a banker. A real banker. In 1956 he 
reached the chairmanship of the board of Wachovia Bank and Trust Com- 
pany and became a student of the trombone. There are musicians who say 
that he was a great banker, but we have not heard a banker say that he 
was a great musician. But he had fun. He served in the state senate, helped 
establish the Research Triangle Park, then more recently lured to the Tri- 
angle — and is now helping to insure its future — the National Humanities 
Center, whose building appropriately was named for him over his objec- 
tions. He is the only person, insofar as I can determine, who has served as 
president of both the American Bankers Association and the Chamber of 
Commerce of the United States. He has carried his love for North Caro- 
lina into the boardrooms of major national corporations, and he has bril- 
liantly upheld the honor of the South in front of audiences, respectable and 
otherwise, throughout the country. 

Forty-two years after receiving his bachelor's degree from this uni- 
versity, he returned to the classroom and earned a master's degree in his- 
tory. Then he did something believed never previously accomplished: He 
researched and wrote a dissertation, defended it before a faculty inquisi- 
tion, and received a special certificate recognizing the high quality of his 
work. The title: "The Boy Colonel: The Life and Times of Henry King 
(Harry) Burgwyn, Jr." The size: over 1,300 pages in three volumes. The 
weight: Sixteen pounds. We had intended to bring our set of the volumes 
for display here tonight, but we were advised that the state's disability in- 
surance did not cover strains from carrying heavy loads of library books. 

10 



Ladies and gentlemen, North Carolina's ambassador of cultural 
goodwill, the president of the North Caroliniana Society — and he was re- 
elected this afternoon — Archie K. Davis. 



CS^D 



ARCHIE K. DAVIS: 

Ladies and gentlemen, you will note that the identity of our next 
speaker has been carefully concealed. While the name is not listed on the 
program, I can assure you that a surprise witness is now waiting in the 
wings. Would that I were free to wax eloquent in my introduction of a 
very remarkable person, but I am limited to a very few, brief, unrevealing 
facts: 

This person was trained at a famous riding school in Boston 
and has been an equestrian of note. 

This person was introduced to John Fries Blair many years ago 
through the good offices of mutual friends. 

This person has long been impressed by our honored guest's af- 
finity for surf fishing and square dancing, which reveals nothing and 
suggests nothing — to say the least, the two sports are mutually ex- 
clusive. 

Up to this point I have carefully endeavored not to identify the gen- 
der of our next speaker, but I must now confess that a lady is involved 
and, may I add, a very warm and affectionate relationship has developed 
over the years between this lady and John Fries Blair. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I am profoundly privileged to present to you a 
most remarkable and talented lady, Margaret Blair McCuiston, a warm ad- 
mirer, confidant and loyal supporter of her brother John Fries. 



11 



Recollections of My Brother 

By Margaret Blair McCuiston 



September 28, 1903, was a bright sunshiny day. My sister Marian 
and I were playing near the grape arbor in my grandmother's yard, next 
door to our house, when Grandma came down the hill to join us. I knew 
that something important must have happened, because Grandma seldom 
walked in the yard. She looked very happy, and she told us that we had a 
baby brother. Later in the day, we were taken up the hill to our house to 
see the new arrival. 

I was disappointed. I thought babies sat up in carriages and shook 
rattles, and this one was just lying there, with his eyes closed, not interest- 
ing at all. I hasten to add that my disappointment did not last long. Playing 
with him became one of my favorite occupations, and I took a personal 
pride in each of his accomplishments and achievements. I still do. 

I began keeping a diary in 1908, and there have been many entries 
connected with John Fries. One of them was his first scheduled appearance 
in public, a recitation at the Sunday School Christmas concert in 1910. 

An earlier occasion on which his voice was heard, was not chronicled 
nor scheduled. It was at his first Lovefeast. Any one of you who have at- 
tended a Moravian Lovefeast know that the members of the congregation 
wait until everyone has been served before they eat the buns. Nobody had 
told me that when I first went, and I took a large bite out of my bun the 
moment I received it. That embarrassed my mother greatly. She wanted to 
make sure that John Fries did not commit the same social error, so she told 
him not to eat until he saw the biship start to do so. Her obedient son 
waited until the proper moment, and then announced joyfully, at the top 
of his voice, "The bishop has began!" 



12 



Marian and John Fries and I were congenial, and the three of us spent 
many hours playing together. As Marian and I were older, I think we usu- 
ally planned the games. Mostly, they were what we called "make-ups" in 
which we had all kinds of imaginary adventures. Sometimes we would in- 
vent our roles and sometimes we would act as characters in stories we had 
read. John Fries usually enjoyed make-ups but was occasionally frightened. 
He told me once that he had been afraid, for weeks, to go into one corner 
of the attic, because he thought that Bluebeard's wives were hidden there. 

John Fries has the distinction of having entered Salem Academy in 
the first grade. Very few children in Salem went to public school. Scat- 
tered all over the central part of town were small private schools, usually 
taking the children through the fifth grade, after which they entered 
Salem Academy or the Salem Boy's School. In 1910, several of the schools 
had closed, so Salem Academy stepped into the breach and organized a 
new Preparatory School, open to both girls and boys. 

John Fries entered the Preparatory School and was there for three 
years. All the school students in Salem went to the Home Moravian 
Church at 11 o'clock every Wednesday morning. Bishop Edward Rond- 
thaler had assigned a hymn stanza to be memorized that week, and each 
separate school had to recite it. I don't know how many other hymns my 
brother knows by heart, but he certainly knows every word of the stanzas 
he recited in young peoples meeting. 

In 1913, the towns of Winston and Salem became one municipality 
and combined their school systems. This was a great change for the chil- 
dren of Salem. Gone were all the small private schools, including the Pre- 
paratory School, and gone was the Tinsley Military Institute, which had 
succeeded the Salem Boys' School. John Fries entered the Salem grade 
school, held in the building which had been used by Tinsley. He has fre- 
quently said that attendance at the Wednesday young peoples meetings 
was a privilege he wished he might have had longer. 

At the age of twelve, John Fries and about a dozen of his friends be- 
came Boy Scout Troop #9. This was a major interest in their lives until 
they went to college. Our father was scoutmaster, and spent a great deal 
of time with the boys. Besides their regular meetings, they took nature 
walks on Sunday afternoons and several times went to the coast on fishing 
trips, traveling overnight on the train. Their bonds of friendship never 
weakened. Reunions of Troop 9 have never ceased to be held. The num- 
bers present have grown smaller year by year, but the three surviving 



13 



members who live in Winston-Salem still celebrate their birthdays to- 
gether every year. 



C^^D 



If you think that my brother entered the publishing business only 
thirty years ago, you are mistaken. He began his publishing career at the 
age of eleven, producing a newspaper called the Enterprise. He wrote the ar- 
ticles, printed the paper on his own printing press, and sold the copies for 
five cents apiece. The size of the paper, if I remember correctly, was about 
four by six inches. 

When John Fries entered high school, the location was very conve- 
nient. He walked up Cherry Street for four blocks. His high school career 
was satisfying. He entered the declamation contest all four years and won 
the last three. He was president of the senior class, and won the Mary C. 
Wiley prize for the highest grades in English. 

Then he followed our father's footsteps and went to Haverford, a 
Quaker College near Philadelphia. There he was a Corporation Scholar (a 
designation given to the four men in each class with the highest academic 
averages). He majored in philosophy and was a member of Phi Beta Kap- 
pa; but took time to be a member of the varsity cricket team and to take 
part in several plays. He was class orator at commencement. 

In the autumn of 1924, John Fries entered Harvard Law School. His 
course there was interrupted by a summer spent in Chapel Hill, where he 
prepared for and passed the North Carolina Bar examination, and also by a 
bout with arthritis, which caused him to miss a whole semester. He grad- 
uated from law school in 1928, and then opened an office in Winston- 
Salem and practiced law for twelve years. 

During that time he served as secretary of the Forsyth County Bar 
Association, director of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, president of 
the Little Theatre of Winston-Salem, and teacher of a Sunday-School class 
at the Home Moravian Church. In spite of these responsibilities, he always 
found time for frequent evenings of square dancing, especially with some 
of the younger teachers at Salem Academy. 



14 



In 1940, having decided that his "interest in things literary was 
greater than in things legal," he closed his office and went to Columbia 
University for graduate study in English and comparative literature. He re- 
ceived a Master of Arts degree in 1941 and continued his studies for an- 
other year. 

He was assistant professor of English at Moravian College in Bethle- 
hem, Pennsylvania, for two years and then returned to North Carolina. 
For several years, he was assistant director of the Institute of Government 
in Chapel Hill and for two years a member of the editorial staff of the Uni- 
versity of North Carolina Press. While he was in Chapel Hill he had the 
opportunity of participating in his favorite recreation — acting. He remem- 
bers with great pleasure his appearances with the Playmakers. 

In 1952, John Fries came home to Winston-Salem, and has been liv- 
ing, ever since, in the house in which he was born. Residence in Winston- 
Salem has given him an opportunity to participate in the activities in 
which he is most interested. He has served as elder of the Home Moravian 
Church, as delegate to Moravian provincial synods, trustee of Salem Acad- 
emy and College and president of the Wachovia Historical Society. He has 
also been vice president of the North Carolina Literary and Historical As- 
sociation and chairman of the North Carolina Writers Conference. 

His interest in the theater has never wavered. He has been behind the 
footlights less frequently in recent years, but friends still recall his appear- 
ance in a variety of roles, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. He is 
remembered for the dignity of Creon in the Antigone of Sophocles and 
equally well for the moment in Ladies of the Jury, when he "brought down 
the house" by dashing on to the stage, attired in undershirt and shorts, 
with his face covered with shaving cream, brandishing a brush. 



c^^D 



During his first year back in Winston-Salem, John Fries was assistant 
professor of English at Salem College. In 1954, he organized the John F. 
Blair Publishing Company. Among the histories, biographies, scholarly 
books, records, books of short stories, and books of verse he has pub- 
lished, many have been about North Carolina and many have been by 
North Carolina writers. 



15 



Books he has published have won the Mayflower Cup, the Roanoke- 
Chowan Award (three times), the American Association of University 
Women Award for children's books (twice), the Thomas Wolfe Award, 
and the Oscar Arnold Young Memorial Award. He has also had five win- 
ners in the Southern Books Competition, based on design and production. 

Expressions of appreciation for John Fries 's work have not been lack- 
ing: 

In 1975, the North Carolina Writers Conference gave him a citation 
for help to North Carolina writers during his twenty years of publishing. 

In 1978, at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Literary and 
Historical Association, he received the Christopher Crittenden Memorial 
Award for "significant contribution to the preservation of North Carolina 
history." 

On May 18, 1981, Wake Forest University bestowed on him the de- 
gree of Doctor of Humane Letters. 

On April 25, 1982, Reynolda House, Inc., hosted a special recogni- 
tion of John Fries Blair with a literary panel and tributes from friends and 
authors of the publisher. 

The presence of this assemblage tonight is all the tribute which any- 
one could wish, but I want to add one more expression of appreciation — 
my own. 

John Fries, you have been my confidant and adviser, and, for the last 
twenty years, my loyal companion and escort. 

I am not one bit disappointed in you! 



16 



C£^D 



MR. DAVIS: 

Born of a distinguished family, nurtured in the shadow of the old F 
and H Fries Mill, the younger brother of two older and loving sisters, and 
a man of rare determination and vision, it is significant that our honored 
guest has risen to such eminence in spite of these handicaps. 

Previous speakers have recounted the achievements of John Fries 
Blair and have reflected upon his goodness and greatness. Now, may I add 
my own word of praise from the vantage point of one several years his ju- 
nior who, as a fellow Moravian, has long been privileged to bask in his re- 
flected glory. 

In this modern day, in which so many of necessity are caught up in 
the complex web of corporate or institutional life, it is increasingly rare to 
find one, as in the case of John Fries, who has managed to chart an indepen- 
dent course, all the while shaping his own destiny to satisfy his boyhood 
dreams. But his has not been the life of a casual journeyman. Although his 
many talents, his rare intellect, and diligent pursuit of learning have 
somehow permitted him the luxury of playing many roles, each in its own 
way has seemingly prepared him for the next. 

So, whether scholar, lawyer, teacher, editor, critic, actor, and now a 
distinguished publisher, success has attended John Fries at each step along 
the way, leaving in its wake a host of admiring friends and a grateful pub- 
lic, for the reason that professional excellence and an insatiable desire to 
serve have long been the driving forces in the life of our honored friend — 
not the search for material gain. This man of many talents has used them 
well and for the benefit of many. His goodness is exceeded only by his 
modesty, and in honoring him we honor ourselves. 

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the North Caroliniana Society, I 
am privileged to present this official citation to our distinguished friend. 
Will the real, the inimitable John Fries Blair please rise? 

[President Davis then presented the certificate bearing the following 
citation!: 



17 



The North Caroliniana Society, 

in recognition of his public service and 

of his promotion, enhancement, production, and 

preservation of the literature of his native state, 

presents its 

North Caroliniana Society Award 

to 

John Fries Blair 

May 20, 1983 



(^£D 



JOHN FRIES BLAIR: 

There have been many kind things said about me here tonight. As 
Washington Irving once wrote, "What is it to us whether these stories 
are true or false, so long as we can persuade ourselves into the belief of 
them, and enjoy all the charm of the reality?" 

And yet I think, somehow, tonight ought also to be a moment of 
truth, so if you will permit me to be very personal, I should like to tell 
you a bit about how it really was with me as a child. 

When my father attempted to teach me to read, I had no particular 
difficulty learning the sounds of the letters (he was using a completely pho- 
nic method), but I have a fairly orderly mind (not desk, as some of you can 
testify), and a Germanic background on my mother's side, so I thought 
the only seemly way to approach a book was to start, always, at the be- 
ginning. Since a child's attention span is short, we didn't get far the first 
night. As I grew older and my attention span increased, we could get far- 
ther into the book, but we never got to the end of it, so I never, fully, 
learned to read. 

Then there was the question of writing. When I was in the first 
grade, Miss Emma Smith sat down before each of us a copy book in which 
letters, words, and sentences were written in beautiful Spencerian script at 
the top of the page, and we were supposed to copy them exactly on the 
numerous lines below. I tried, and my letters had a certain artistic flourish, 



18 



and even some resemblance to the originals. But then a tragedy happened. 
When the towns of Winston and Salem were combined and we had a 
public school right in the heart of Salem, they tried to teach me the Palmer 
method, in which the whole arm, rather than just the fingers, was used in 
forming letters. Since I was never particularly athletically inclined, I could 
never master the arm movement, but my beautiful Spencerian script was 
shattered. Taking notes in law school completed the destruction, so that 
now my handwriting is legible only by me, and even I can't make out 
some of the words sometimes. 

And then there was mathematics. I got along fairly well until I got 
to plane geometry. Then I was able to master the irrefutable proof of the 
proposition that all triangles are isosceles, but since that was palpably un- 
true, I lost all faith in mathematical reasoning and dropped the subject as 
soon as possible. 

Thus, without reading, writing, or mathematics, I emerged from 
my early education a functional illiterate. 

Thus equipped, I tried various professions: practicing law, teaching, 
doing research for the Institute of Government, and editing manuscripts at 
the University Press where my crowning achievement was that monu- 
mental volume, the university catalogue. 

I am thankful for all these experiences, but, like Faust, I could never 
say to any of them, Verweile dock, du hist so schon. 

In publishing the situation was just as bad. I flitted from muse to 
muse, from Clio to Melpomene to Euterpe, and from discipline to disci- 
pline until along came a manuscript about learning-disabled children, and I 
was soon able to convince myself that I was not only functionally illiterate 
but also learning-disabled. 

I am deeply indebted to all my authors, but because of the diversity 
of their gifts and my distractibility, I have gotten to the point that I some- 
times wonder if I know anything about anything. 

And now the honor has been bestowed upon me. As George Her- 
bert said: 

Who would have thought my shriveled heart 
Could have recovered greenness? It had gone 
Quite underground, as flowers depart 

— when they have blown. 

And now, as I enter the company of Paul Green, who has gone be- 
fore, Albert Coates, my former boss, Senator Ervin, Sam Ragan, and Dr. 



19 



Gertrude Carraway, I feel that I can say of this moment, as Faust could 
not say without damnation: Verweile doch, du hist so schon. Linger then, you 
are so beautiful. 

Mr. President and members of the North Caroliniana Society: I am 
completely unworthy of this honor, but I thank you from the bottom of 
my heart. 



<gj£D 



DR. JONES: 

John, we were cautioned that if we gave you a silver cup, you might 
rush out and melt it down. So our award is simply a printed certificate. 
We assure you, however, that the cheapness of our tangible gift is in in- 
verse proportion to the degree of our recognition and appreciation of your 
enrichment of our lives through your distinguished career. 

As we thank you for allowing us to spend this evening with you, we 
share with you several additional messages. 

Harriet Doar, the veteran book review editor from Charlotte, says, 
"He's done a lot for area writing while holding a high standard." Alan 
Brilliant says that John Fries Blair "is much admired here at Unicorn." 
Charleen Swansea of Red Clay Books writes, "I am delighted that the 
North Caroliniana Society will be honoring you on May 20. Your contri- 
butions to literature and culture in our state have been significant. Your 
kindness and help to me when I was a young publisher gave me both cou- 
rage and direction. Thank you, John. I wish that I could be with you on 
the occasion of this celebration. I send you my love." 

And Nell Wise Wechter, writes, "I want to say that Mr. Blair justly 
deserves this honor. I'm proud to be one of his earliest authors and one 
who was awarded the AAUW prize in 1957. Mr. Blair is a perfectionist, 
and he 'taught' his authors to be careful and gave them wonderful advice. 
I owe him all that I am, as an author. ... I thank him. . . . I'll be there in 
spirit." 

And, finally: 

I wanted to personally respond to the gracious invitation you 
sent me to share an evening with John Fries Blair when he accepts 

20 



the North Caroliniana Society Award on May 20. I can't think of 
anyone more deserving of this prestigious honor. 

I would appreciate your expressing to Mr. Blair how proud I 
am of his contributions to our State's culture and my sincere regrets 
that I will be unable to attend. The demands on my time from the 
General Assembly, the Chairmanship of the Education Commission 
of the States, and my role in the National Governors' Association 
create a very hectic schedule, particularly during the next two to 
three months. 

Again, thank you so much for wanting me to share this excit- 
ing evening with you. 

My warmest personal regards. 



Sincerely, 
Jim [Hunt] 

Thank you all for sharing this evening with our mutual friend, John 
Fries Blair. Good night. 



<S^£) 



The North Caroliniana (Society, 

in recognition d his public service and 

of his promotion, enhancement, production. and 

preservation of the literature ol his native state. 

presents its 

North Caroliniana (Society Award 

to 

JOHN FDIESBLAIQ 

May 20. 1983 



Archie K. Davis 

President 



H.G. Jones 
Secretarv-Treasurer 



21 



John F. Blair, Publisher 

by Roy Thompson 



[Reprinted with permission of author from Winston-Salem Journal, 
May 22, 1983] 



Knitting his fingers behind his head and staring at the ceiling as is his 
way, John Fries Blair said thoughtfully, "I have a suspicion that writing is 
the most important thing in the world." 

Blair is a 79-year-old bachelor whose lifelong passion has been for the 
English language and its most graceful uses. 

During his early working life he tried his hand at many things. He 
was a scholar, a lawyer, a teacher, a writer, an editor, an actor. . . . 

All, it should be noted, are fields of endeavor in which words play an 
important role. 

Blair answered each calling and then decided that it had been a 
wrong number. 

At 50 ... an age at which many men are daydreaming about the plea- 
sures of retirement ... he ignored the well-meant advice of a number of 
friends and set a new course for a career as "Jolm F. Blair, Publisher." 

In his 29 years as publisher, Blair has added 118 books to the world's 
shelves . . . many of them by North Carolinians on subjects of regional in- 
terest that might never otherwise have been published. 

Friday night in Chapel Hill the North Caroliniana Society an- 
nounced that because of his "unusually distinctive service to the state over 
a period of years" in supporting and preserving "the historical, literary 
and cultural heritage of North Carolina" the society was giving its annual 
North Caroliniana Award to John Fries Blair. 



22 



The award came at a good time for Blair, because he is giving serious 
thought to retiring. 

His face is a character actor's face. A splendid face. Deeply lined. Ed- 
gar A. Guest would have said that it took a heap of livin' to fashion such a 
face. 

Observant people who have noted the noble handsomeness of an ag- 
ing bloodhound's thoughtful face might see a similarity. 

Sharp, alert eyes. A gambler's eyes. He sees more than most people 
do. . .even with cataracts. 

He dresses in the slightly rumpled, conservative style of a man who 
doesn't even know how wide ties and lapels are supposed to be this year 
. . .let alone care. 

He has the look of a man who never forgets to celebrate the birthday 
of the inventor of overstuffed chairs. 

Ask him about exercise and he recalls the tennis, hunting, fishing 
and gardening of his youth . . . even the time he played on the softball team 
of the junior bar association here. 

Now? 

"I have become increasingly sedentary with age," he said with a 
smile of vast contentment. 

Ask him almost any question beyond name, rank and serial number, 
and you will have the experience of watching an answer in the making 
long before he has brought that answer to the degree of perfection that he 
requires of his answers before sharing them with outsiders. 

He is not using the politician's delay tactics to avoid the question or 
to tailor it to what he thinks the public would like best to hear. 

Blair is a methodical man who wants his answers to be both accurate 
and well-stated. 

Blair the Witness refers the question to the Blair who once did re- 
search for the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, and that Blair 
searches the vast mental archives of Blair the Scholar before submitting the 
facts to Blair the Writer. . .who carefully fashions the reply before sub- 
mitting it to Blair the Editor . . . who polishes the reply before relaying it 
to Blair the Publisher . . . who cautiously passes it on to let Blair the Law- 
yer go over it for possible legal problems. 

Blair's roots must be close to bedrock in Salem. His Fries ancestors 
came about 160 years ago, and the Voglers were here before the Revolu- 
tionary War. 



23 



His father, William A. Blair, was a Quaker (later Moravian) who 
came here from south of High Point to be principal of old West End 
School. Then he was superintendent of schools for a time before, as Blair 
said, "some of the business people lured him away from the schools be- 
cause they wanted to set up a new bank and needed an executive for it." 
He became president of People's National Bank. 

His mother was Mary Fries, a daughter of John W Fries, "who was 
one of the three sons of Francis Fries, the manufacturer." 

Dr. Adelaide Fries, another daughter, was the author and translator 
of Moravian records. 

Mary Fries, Blair's mother, was an artist. When she was in Rome 
with her parents once, a woman saw her work and wanted to teach her 
the art of portrait painting, but the nearest she ever came to that was to do 
charcoal portraits of the presidents of Salem College. 

The portraits now hang in the Inspector's House at the college. 

Grandfather Fries owned the block bounded by Brookstown Avenue 
and South Cherry, South Marshall and High streets. 

"People bought blocks in those days, not lots," Fries said. 

His grandfather's sister owned the block to the east; a brother, the 
block to the west; and nephews, the blocks to the northeast and north- 
west. 

Grandfather Fries had a tennis court, and Blair's parents "did a lot of 
courting there," Blair said. 

When they were married, his grandfather gave his mother the north 
end of his block, and the Blair home was built in 1901 during the Teddy 
Roosevelt administration. 

He was born there in the house he now lives in, and his sister, Mrs. 
Robert McCuiston, lives next door in their grandfather's home. 

Blair got an early start as a scholar when he and two other grade- 
school friends were tutored in Latin and learned enough to "make us feel 
at home in it when we got to Latin in high school." 

Before he had finished school, he'd had a great deal of Latin, some 
German, Greek, French and a bit of Czech. 

He got his bachelor of arts degree at Haverford College in 1924 and 
his law degree from Harvard University in 1928. . . an excellent year for a 
young lawyer to come home and open a legal practice. 

The next year was a different story. Blair said, "Then the Great De- 
pression set in, and the law was pretty poor pickings." He handled civil 
cases mostly. He did a lot of title work. 



24 



He didn't make much money, and he didn't have much fun, but he 
kept his nose to the grindstone of law for 12 years before deciding, as he 
said, that "the law wasn't where my heart lay." 

He decided to go to Columbia University for a master's degree in 
English. Ironically, his "best-paying case came in" after his decision was 
made. It didn't change his mind, but he did stick around long enough to 
handle the case and collect his fee before heading north. 

He got the new degree and taught for a time at Moravian College in 
Pennsylvania before coming home to do research and write for the Insti- 
tute of Government in Chapel Hill. 

Albert Coates, the founder of the institute, says that some of Blair's 
writing to make North Carolina's laws understandable to laymen ranks 
with the best the institute ever produced, but Blair decided that the call 
that brought him to Chapel Hill had been a wrong number. 

He moved to the University of North Carolina Press as an editor, 
and one of his early assignments was to edit the university's catalog. 

"It was horrible!" he recalls. 

At the UNC Press he got an inside look at the publishing business, 
and two things about it worried him: The press was publishing little more 
than scholarly papers, and national publishers didn't often take a chance on 
regional books. 

So some "fine writers of regional books" were finding it very nearly 
impossible to get their work published. 

In the meantime. . . 

Blair, who had always been interested in the theater, became involved 
with the Carolina Playmakers. He appeared in some of the productions. 
He wrote a one-act play, "Cornbread," which the Playmakers produced 
in 1946. 

He considered a career in the theater "from time to time" but even- 
tually decided that "this wasn't the direction in which I was called." 

Then his father died, and Blair was named executor of the estate ... a 
task that kept him on the road about as many hours as he was spending in 
Chapel Hill or Winston-Salem. 

He eventually gave up the job in Chapel Hill and came home. 

He taught English at Salem for a year and then . . . against the advice 
of his friends . . . rented a basement in Old Salem and hung out a new 
shingle that read: "John F. Blair, Publisher." 

Friends had said that New York was the place for a publisher. He 
might make a go of it in Atlanta. Winston-Salem, no. 



25 



Blair, who is known by his full name of ' 'John Fries Blair, ' ' reduced 
his name to "John F. Blair" for business purposes. 

People away from here had a hard time pronouncing "Fries," he 
said. 

New York publishers would have advised against opening a new 
house with the publication of a book of poetry by a long-dead and little- 
known Moravian author, but Blair began with John Henry Boner's 
"Whispering Pines," a book first published in New York in 1883. 

Blair the Moravian Romantic made the decision to do it; Blair the 
Conservative Publisher held the press run to 1,000 copies. 

He sold them and gave some thought to a second printing before de- 
ciding against it. 

Just after he decided, an order for "30 or 40" copies came in from 
South Africa. 

Years later, he still wonders why. 

Today . . . near the close of his publishing career . . . Blair is still hard 
at work. 

One look at his desk will tell a visitor that it's a working man's desk. 

There's a sign taped to one corner: 

"A neat desk is a sign of a sick mind." 

Somewhere back of the great piles of manuscripts, letters, records 
and forgotten treasures that cover his desk Blair is concealed. 

Around him, behind him, all around the room and filling chairs once 
intended for the comfort of visitors one finds a masterpiece of the clutter- 
ing art. 

The telephone is still readily findable. He has it on a stack of old di- 
rectories lest it be lost forever. 

Each year the telephone rises a little higher as a new directory is add- 
ed, and when his telephone rings Blair has to stand to reach it. 

This . . . according to people who remember his former quarters in 
the old First National Bank Building ... is neat by comparison with the 
old place. 

Visitors there sometimes went into his office, mistook it for a store- 
room and backed out hastily. 

There is a story about his leaving the old building that must be told 
in two versions: Blair's and the one given by people with him at the time. 

They agree on the problem: 

The building was to be imploded on a certain day, and all tenants had 
to be out. 



26 



Blair was building new quarters, and the building was behind sched- 
ule, and he didn't want to have to move twice. 

He stayed on . . . hoping for a miracle that never came. 

His people packed the rest of the things that were to be moved, but 
nobody dared touch anything in Blair's office. 

At 1 o'clock on the day which the building was to be imploded at 3 
... or others say. . .Blair stood, looked upon his monumental pile of clut- 
ter in despair and, saying "I don't know what you're going to do with 
this," left. 

Blair agrees with the basic scenario, but he recalls that he helped. 

"I'm sure I did," he said. 

According to legend, the papers stored in boxes for the move 10 
years ago are. . .for the most part. . .still in their boxes. 

As his reputation has spread, the number of manuscripts has greatly 
increased and Blair, who used to read everything that came in, now finds 
reading 500 to 600 manuscripts a year "a physical impossibility. " 

He still reads everything he is to publish, and he reads a lot of manu- 
scripts that he doesn't publish. 

He estimates that he is now publishing about one manuscript in 
every 100 that the postman brings. A lot of people who suspect them- 
selves of being undiscovered geniuses of American literature send their 
work to him. 

"We read a lot of bad stuff," Blair said. 

(He has a rule: "I try not to say anything to the author when I re- 
turn a bad manuscript. I don't want to offer any false encouragement for 
him to try again in the same way.") 

He's the last to come to work in the mornings. About 11 as a rule. 

But he usually keeps on working at home until 1 to 2 a.m. 

He still enjoys the variety that comes with being a publisher: "One 
day I'm reading about Hatteras Island, and the next day it's carnivorous 
plants, and the next day it's something else, and the next day, something 
ELSE." 

The one-in-a-hundred author whose work is accepted for publication 
by Blair is luckier than he or she usually knows, because Blair's books are 
novelties in today's publishing business. 

Blair has no patience with the notion that things produced today 
have to be shoddy. He still produces books that are widely recognized for 
their technical excellence. 



27 



He still uses a high-quality paper that will be readable 50 years from 
now instead of turning yellow or turning to dust as most of today's books 
are doomed to do. 

Most of his books are still set by hand. It costs more, but it produces 
higher quality. 

Many of them are still hand-sewn rather than glued as most books 
are today. 

His writers get more editorial assistance than writers get from most 
publishers nowadays. 

And there is this . . . 

Most publishers are very conservative in ordering second printings of 
their books, but Blair, who went into business in the first place to give re- 
gional authors a chance to see their books in print, believes in taking a 
chance and keeping them in print. 

It costs to do the new edition. It costs to store the books until they 
sell. And he has to pay taxes on the unsold books. 

Blair takes quiet pride in the fact that about 100 of the 118 books he 
has published are still available. 

Generally speaking, however, he is uncomfortable in talking about 
ways in which his books are superior. 

There have been awards. Many of them. 

But when pressed for comment on the high quality of his books, 
about all he would say was that Virginia Ingram, his book designer, and 
Mitzi Shumate, her predecessor, have had a lot to do with it. 

Charles E. Whedbee's tales about the Outer Banks have been his 
biggest sellers. 

His most ambitious book, perhaps, was Carnivorous Plants of the 
United States and Canada by Donald E. Schnell. It has been favorably re- 
viewed all over the world and has been called "the definitive book on car- 
nivorous plants." 

Blair went out on a limb with it and ordered a first printing of 
15,000 copies. . .of which, he said, "We still have quite a few." 

But people have ordered it from Australia, Singapore, Japan, Eng- 
land, Finland, and the orders are still coming in. 

Blair's pet book is Ben Dixon MacNeill's The Hatterasman. 

"It was the first book I published that acquired any distinction," he 
said, "and I've never lost my affection for it." 

He has "at least one copy around here somewhere" of each of the 
118 books he has published. 



28 



His philosophy as a publisher is pretty much the same now as when 
he got into the business 29 years ago: 

"I think it is important to preserve, rather than destroy, regional dif- 
ferences. I think that regional companies can have an effect in helping to 
preserve the history of a region, something of the speech, something of 
the tradition and the folklore. . . 

"I believe that a publisher should, within certain limitations of taste 
and political outlook, give the people the opportunity to say what they 
have to say, if it's worth saying, and then present it in as attractive a form 
as he knows how. 

"A publisher's taste should be fairly catholic and his acceptance of 
ideas fairly wide. One year, for example, I published a biography of Tom 
Dixon, who was certainly a racist, and a book about Nat Turner, the slave 
rebel." 

Blair still believes that he was right in coming home and becoming a 
regional publisher rather than going to New York, where the publishing 
action has been for so long. 

He believes that the publishing business may be starting to move out 
of New York slowly because of high rents and fear of walking in the 
streets at night. 

He deplores the trend of conglomerates' buying up publishing 
houses. 

"I think there is a love of literature and a sense of rightness in the use 
of words ... a sense, maybe, even of the significance of ideas that is not 
enough the major concern of a company that owns businesses in various 
fields, but a good many publishing companies have been bought . . . many 
of them by people who don't know anything about publishing." 

Now, at 79 and plagued by cataracts that will soon require surgery, 
Blair is concerned about his eyes and his "general age and decrepitude." 

Blair said, "I hope I have sense enough to know that nobody is inde- 
structible, and I have reached an age of increased destructibility. I think it's 
sort of foolish for a man as old as I am to carry that much of that kind of 
responsibility. 

"Unless I make arrangements for some kind of succession my au- 
thors might not be very well protected in case anything happened to me. 

"If I should become incapacitated, and there isn't really anybody 
who would have the authority to make decisions, and I don't know how 
to hedge on that sort of thing. 



29 



"I have given my executor extraordinary powers to carry on the 
business if I should pass on." 

And then there was this. . . 

"I have no time left for writing. Trying to solve another author's 
problems leaves you exhausted . . . takes your creative energy. 

"I have a play that has been partly written for years (nearly 40 years) 
that I should very much like to complete." 

Blair didn't want to talk much about his play. 

"It's historical," he said, "It's about an important and somewhat 
neglected incident in history, and it expresses certain attitudes of mine." 

Writing. 

That's the thing! 




-Photo by Cookie Snyder 



(&&£> 



30 



NORTH CAROUNIANA SOCIETY, INC. 

North Carolina Collection 

UNC Library 024-A 

Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514 

Chartered on September 11, 1975, as a private nonprofit corporation under provi- 
sions of Chapter 55A of the General Statutes of North Carolina, the North Caroliniana 
Society has as its main purpose the promotion of increased knowledge and apprecia- 
tion of North Carolina heritage through studies, publications, meetings, seminars, 
and other programs, especially through assistance to the North Carolina Collection 
of The University of North Carolina Library in the acquisition, preservation, care, 
use, and display of, and the promotion of interest in, historical and literary materials 
relating to North Carolina and North Carolinians. The Society, a tax-exempt organi- 
zation under provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, depends 
upon the contributions, bequests, and devises of its members and friends. 

Unofficially limited to one hundred North Carolinians who have contributed sig- 
nificantly to the state, the Society elects additional individuals meeting its criterion of 
"adjudged performance," thus bringing together men and women who have 
shown their respect for and commitment to our state's unique historical, literary, 
and cultural inheritance. 

A highlight of the Society's year is the presentation of the North Caroliniana Society 
Award to an individual adjudged to have given unusually distinguished service 
over a period of years to the encouragement, promotion, enhancement, produc- 
tion, and preservation of North Caroliniana. 

The North Carolina Collection, the headquarters for the North Caroliniana Soci- 
ety, has been called the "Conscience of North Carolina," for it seeks to preserve 
for present and future generations all that has been or is published about the state and 
its localities and people or by North Carolinians, regardless of subject. In this mis- 
sion the Collection's clientele is broader than the University community; indeed, it 
is the entire citizenry of North Carolina as well as those outside the state whose re- 
search extends to North Carolina or North Carolinians. Its acquisitions are made 
possible by gifts and private endowment funds; thus, it also represents the respect 
that North Carolinians have for their heritage. Members of the North Caroliniana 
Society have a very special relationship to this unique institution which traces its 
beginnings back to 1844 and which is unchallenged as the outstanding collection 
of printed North Caroliniana in existence. A leaflet, "North Carolina's Literary 
Heritage," is available without charge from the Collection. 

BOARD OF DIRECTORS 

Archie K. Davis, President 

William S. Powell, Vice-President 

H.G. Jones, Secretary-Treasurer 

Gertrude S. Carraway 

Louis M. Connor, Jr.